Over the past several years, I’ve been pretty vocal about the flood of content generated every day extolling the virtues of one best practice over another, introducing the next must-have technology, or commentary from the “autolebrity” circuit. While those behind the content have mostly good intentions (I still posit that the content is strictly for SEO purposes), the senders make a very costly assumption. They have an exaggerated understanding of the abilities of the audience.
If you have children, nieces or nephews, or have met a child born in the last fifteen years, you know video games play a central role in their lives. These games, some of which are psychologically engineered to be addictive, have been blamed for everything from lack of participation in high school sports, poorly developed social skills, the inability for the military to find suitable recruits and even stunted romantic development. Just recently a young man did not seek shelter as a tornado passed by because he was so engrossed in a video game. Kids today can barely hold a conversation about anything meaningful, however, when it comes to video games, they can talk your ear off.
My oldest son, while being objectively gifted, will prattle on for hours about video games while I blankly stare off into the distance. He does this with his mother, his grandparents, his school principal, and people he’s just been introduced to five minutes ago. Fortnite this, Roblox that, and regurgitated commentary from his favorite YouTubers make up the bulk of his conversations. I’m always more than happy to engage in discussions about his other interests in nature, astronomy, and the books he’s reading. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to hear a ten-year-old’s thoughts on astrophysics and particle theory? But, the topic will eventually veer back to an episode of DanTDM, and quickly morph into the “wamp-wamp-wamp” adults from Charlie Brown.
Since I spend a good chunk of my week coaching and training the different facets of Internet sales, I get a very broad exposure to the intended audience of the aforementioned content. When wrapping up the analysis of a recent mystery shop, it jolted me out of a sense of complacency. The gigabytes of content that’s generated to motivate and move a large group of people only reaches a minuscule fraction. That fraction mostly interprets, spins, and then generates more content that goes wholly unconsumed.
Like millions of video game-obsessed children, content generators breathlessly regale subscribers with stories, product features, and expert du jour commentary that aimlessly glances off the target audience because they don’t understand it. The reason why you see the exact same people, from the same organizations, at the various conferences is that the vast majority of their colleagues choose not to participate. The same reason why you keep seeing “back to basics” every five months is because 90% of the distribution list was never taught the basics. Of the remaining 10%, 8% were taught the basics by people who had absolutely no business teaching them. The remainder has extraordinarily strong leadership, a culture of success, a commitment to a sustainable business, or are currently for sale.
I shudder to think about the economic output wasted promoting books, conferences, webinars, mailing lists, blogs, and YouTube channels to an audience who doesn’t understand the intent, assuming the intent is to educate. How do you teach calculus to someone who doesn’t understand addition? How do you promote generating blog and video content to someone who doesn’t have the energy to proofread? How do you advance ideas about supply and demand technology to people who forgot what they learned in high school economics? It’s like handing someone who grew up on an Atari joystick an Xbox controller. They’ll just stare at the ten buttons, two triggers, two sticks, and a directional pad in catatonic disbelief.
Whether you are a generator or consumer of content, I implore you to take a hard look in the mirror. If you’re a generator, are your intentions to create and disseminate as much material as you can or is it to create something meaningful? If you’re a consumer of the content, are you trying to be part of a club or make a meaningful and lasting impact on your organization? If you’re the former, I implore you to find better teachers so that the basics don’t have to be constantly revisited. Trust me, it’s not working. If you’re the latter, learn to tune out the noise. Chances are if you’re favorite content generator has something to write every day, they aren’t actually doing any of the work they’re writing about. If someone is always writing about 110% effort, they clearly aren’t putting that into their day job. Find a mentor. If you love hearing noise, I know a kid who will give you all the noise you can want for free.